I must admit, I have several potential blog essays underway. But somehow, in the light of global events, these essays just don’t seem that significant. Having been to Ukraine twice and to Russia twice on teaching junkets over the past twenty years, I have been burdened about the war Russia is waging on Ukraine. I understand the historical dynamics. Russia’s “take no prisoners” approach to this war is criminal. What to do about all this is another matter. This essay will not weigh in on the political issues. Rather, I pose the question, Are we living in the last days?
Whatever your eschatological sensibilities, if you are a Bible Christian, you believe in the reality of what the Bible calls “the last days.” Jesus, quoting Joel, spoke of “the last days” (Acts 2:17) as did Paul (2 Tim. 3:1) and Peter (2 Pet 3:3). These days connect to the coming (return) of Jesus to do something. For this essay, I do not intend to make a full-throated defense of any particular eschatological system, just attempt to address the question that is on the minds of many believers today—are we living in the last days? I mentioned on Facebook last week, that I was preaching in a couple of churches last Sunday on this text and one FB friend asked if I was “Jeff Van Straube,” a takeoff on Jack Van Impe, the late prophecy preacher who died two years ago. I had occasion to hear Jack in person a number of times in the 70s at various conferences. He, like so many preachers, talked a lot about the “last days.”
I decided to preach on the early verses from the Olivet Discourse this last Sunday because it has long been my practice as a preacher to be sensitive to the world situation and to use world events on limited occasions to prompt some sermons. Global events are heavy on people’s minds, so why not use the things they are already thinking about to draw them into the Scripture? I did this at the beginning of COVID with a sermon on Ps 90 “Learning to Number Our Days,” coincidentally the name of my blog. With the very real prospect of World War 3 at our doorstep, a sermon on the last days is certainly appropriate. Nor was I alone in my consideration. Pat Robertson has already come out with a statement that we are preparing for Armageddon. Robert Jeffress dealt with a similar topic this past Sunday at First Baptist Dallas. And I saw on FB that a Romanian colleague, a leader among the Baptists there, preached on Mt 24–25 in one of his churches. Asking if we are living in the last days seems like a reasonable question given world events, especially since “wars and rumors of wars” as one possible indicator is located in this passage that also speaks of “earthquakes in various places.” This week, Japan experienced a 7.3 earthquake off the coast of the Fukushima prefecture at 11:36 PM local time. Tsunami warnings were issued along the east Honshu coast. Are we seeing Bible prophecy come to life?
This is a reasonable question to ask, and since the disciples asked a similar one, let’s consider what Jesus answered them. In looking at Matthew 24, we need a bit of context. Jesus and the 12 have been in Jerusalem for one last preaching tour before his crucifixion. The triumphal entry has already happened and Jesus finishes up teaching in the Temple, departing with the 12 for the Mt of Olives, a Sabbath day’s journey from the Temple (Acts 1:12). As he departs, Jesus warns the 12 about the coming razing of the Temple—one stone will not be left upon another. Whether this is hyperbole to say that the building will be unusable once it happens or whether it is literal, the point is the utter destruction of the Temple (which will happen in 70 AD when Titus besieges Jerusalem and destroys the Jewish center of worship). Troubled by the prophecy, the disciples ask Jesus the logical question—when will this happen and is this connected with his coming and the end of the age?
Obviously, this will require a longer answer than this blog essay can provide but by looking at the next few verses, we can get a good idea of how to think. You will notice the very first thing Jesus says in reply to their question—don’t be led astray, by false Christs (v. 5) and, later on, by false prophets (v. 11). When we talk about the last days, we need to exercise caution lest we be deceived. There have been many false Christs—Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshal Herff Applewhite, Jr (Heaven’s Gate) that preached prophetic messages that led to the deaths of their followers—918 at Jonestown in 1978, 76 at Waco in 1993 and 39 in 1997 at Rancho Santa Fe, CA. A very real consequence to following false Christs or false prophets is death if their delusional teaching is embraced.
So, what is Jesus telling his disciples here? Yes, wars and rumors of wars will occur in the days before the end. Famines, a natural consequence of war, and earthquakes will also accompany the end time. But these are the beginning of birth pains. Just how long it will be from the beginning to the end is unclear. We simply don’t know if we are at the end of the beginning or at the beginning of the end. Is it five minutes to midnight or three minutes after midnight on the clock of human history? We don’t know and it would be dangerous to speculate. What are we then to do?
Well, what we should not do is sell our goods and move to a mountain top and wait for Jesus. We might wait along time. Two things from this text emerge that we can do and should do immediately. First, we need to endure . . . persevere to the end, whenever that may be. Perseverance is a most important doctrine for the Christian. Perseverance is something that we work at (Php 2:12) and it is something that God does in us (Php 2:13). The second thing that concerns us is the preaching of the gospel—the Gospel of the Kingdom. There is only one gospel—the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead. People need to be pointed to Jesus during these uncertain days (John 3:3).
So in answer to the question I posed in the title, are we living in th last days, I don’t know. Are we at the end of the beginning or at the beginning of the end? We might even be at the end of the end; God only knows. One of the last things Jesus told us was that knowing the times or seasons is not for us to know (Acts 1:7). We are just to be ready! Lord help us to be ready for your return.